Proper funding ‘could make lasting impact on young’, says NYCI

Youth council calls for increased funding for sector which serves 380,000 teenagers

Aoife Duffy, Irish Girl Guides, Eric Ehigie Irish Second Level SU with Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee (centre) at the NYCI showcase in the Mansion House, Dublin. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

Aoife Duffy, Irish Girl Guides, Eric Ehigie Irish Second Level SU with Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee (centre) at the NYCI showcase in the Mansion House, Dublin. Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan

 

The teenagers of Cloyne Diocese Youth Service (CDYS) in Midleton, Co Cork, would probably be hanging about the local shopping centre “causing trouble”, if they weren’t so busy chilling out – with tea and biscuits – in their community centre, said Bella Butler (17).

The youth club is a warm, safe space, where young people can shelter while they wait for the bus, get help with homework, or find a kind ear after a hard day, she added.

Butler has been visiting the service nearly every weekday for the past six years. She was shy, she said, and school was not her strength. Now she performs music and has lifelong friends. Her life is “a whole lot better,” she said, adding that she owes it all to the support and kindness of the workers and the friends she has made at the Midleton centre.

“In the youth club, they are very understanding. They will listen to your problems,” she said. “The second you walk in they bring a big smile to your face.”

Butler and her friends from Midleton joined hundreds of other young people, youth workers, and politicians at the Mansion House in Dublin to discuss the benefits of youth services. The event, organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), was timed so public representatives could push for greater investment in youth work ahead of Budget 2020.

Life changing

Youth worker Ross Bonner said the teenagers she supports at CDYS now face bigger issues than the youth of a decade ago. “What gets me is we are the first to lose funding,” she said, adding that the unstructured pay for newly-qualified youth workers doesn’t reflect the life-changing impact of the job. “It has been proven that youth work works. With the right funding we have an opportunity to make a decent lasting impact on young people’s lives.”

During difficult times in their lives, Arcadia Lambert (17) and Megan McCoy (14) found a “safe place” in Outcomers, an LGBT+ service for young people in Co Louth. McCoy said she was bullied in school for being gay, but found support in Outcomers.

“They helped me out so much,” she said. “I was going through a difficult stage before joining. I will be forever grateful to the people I have met there.”

Attending the youth service helped her become more outgoing, and she finds it easier to chat to people, she said. A youth leader now, McCoy helps new members feel welcome. There were fewer than 15 people when she joined two years ago, but the service has grown to accommodate more than 50 young people nearly every Saturday. The staff and volunteers all identify as LGBT+ themselves, which makes it a place for people to “feel no shame,” she said.

The youth-work sector benefits over 380,000 young people each year, through the efforts of 1,400 staff and 40,000 volunteers, according to the NYCI.

“Much of this work goes largely unnoticed,” said NYCI director Mary Cunningham. “We know, and have always known, that youth work changes lives for the better, but we need public representatives to think so too.”

She said many organisations have not received funding increases since 2005 and urged Government to find additional resources. The increase of compliance rules is important, but impossible to do without increased funding, she said. She added that the complexity of young people’s needs have changed significantly over the past 15 years. “We know youth work can do a lot with a little, but we cannot deliver better youth work without additional resources.”